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Tobacco Control Bill passed: $200K fine, imprisonment for transgressions, $9M for corporate breaches

The Control Bill 2017 was passed by the National Assembly Thursday evening after a lengthy debate, by both sides of the House, of over six hours.

The legislation will be enforced by the application of several penalties in the form of fines and prison sentences for ‘certain transgressions’. These range from a fine of $200,000 dollars for persons who breach the new regulations, along with 6 months imprisonment, to fines for business entities of up to $9 million dollars. 

Presented by Minister of Health Volda Lawrence, the Bill seeks to provide for the adoption of and implementation of tobacco control policies, with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Giving her closing arguments, Minister Lawrence said that she was thankful for the support shown, by both sides of the House, to the Bill. She reminded that “the Bill speaks to the control of “tobacco and tobacco only”, hence it would not impinge on possible Marijuana legislation in the future. She also explained that calls for provision for sellers and other purveyors of tobacco products to be made were dissimilar to what obtained for other Bills, hence there was no need for such.

A total of 14 Members of Parliament shared their views on the legislation during the proceedings. Supporting Government’s push to pass the Bill, saw MP Jermaine Figueira for example, citing the billions that countries such as India have spent, to treat persons affected by direct and second-hand smoke for example.

Minister of Telecommunications Catherine Hughes offered her support noting that for decades, the movie industry paid for stars to promote their products but never showed the pain of those dying from cancer.

MP Charandas Persaud quoted penalties in Trinidad where the penalty for smoking in a restricted area is $10,000, much higher than what would obtain locally. He remarked, “If you can afford to smoke, then you can afford to pay the fine!”

Several Opposition Members voiced concerns about what they saw as a lack of support systems such as counseling and support for those addicted to smoking. They decried the Bill as being a Tobacco Ban Bill, given the mandatory implications of the legislations. MP Gillian Persaud was among those who called for systems to be put in place to help persons to quit and those who vend tobacco products for a living.

After a division was called for, the Bill was put to a vote and passed by the Government side, without any support by the Opposition. (DPI, Guyana)

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